Safety and Travel: CyberSecurity Tips for Travelers

Safe travel begins at the point where you are booking the ticket for your next flight. Credit card fraud is increasingly becoming a major issue in travel with airlines and travelers losing billions of dollars every year. This is becoming more apparent as more travelers are now opting to purchasing their tickets online through airline booking engines, online travel agencies, affiliate websites and more. The distribution infrastructure for airline tickets has broadened and so have the cyber threats. Devices such smartphones and e-passports have also increased security risks for travelers. If you are the techie traveler, here are a few tips to keep safe online before you board your next flight:

Some deals are literally too good to be true:
Airlines and travel retailers are literally bombarding travelers with deals, particularly during the peak travel seasons like Easter Holidays, Christmas, New Year, August Holidays etc. These deals can be sold via an airline's website, partner websites, affiliate websites and other online distribution infrastructure. With so many channels, it can be difficult for naive bargain hunters to distinguish trusted websites from online scams. Cyber criminals always take advantage of such to dupe customers into buying into non existent deals. Always reaserch, thoroughly, a company behind the latest "hot" travel or holiday offers before committing your cash. Buy from trusted travel providers. The safest place to buy a ticket is from an airline website's booking engine.

Groupon Spoofing:  
Cybercriminals are capable of spoofing popular online group buying websites and install malicious software on your computer to steal your financial information and money. What initially looks like an awesome travel deal to South Africa on "Expedia" or "Groupon" eventually turns out to be an elaborate scam that costs you thousands of dollars in a matter of minutes. These scammers build fake websites with the familiar feel and look of your normal online travel website be it Expedia, Groupon, Kulula Daddy's Deals, Travelstart, Priceline or eDreams. In some cases, they might even spoof airline websites although this is quite rare. The idea is make consumers who are less diligent trust these fake websites as the real thing. They are normally accompanied by highly discounted travel offers. The trick to escaping scams online is to research and research well. Don't trust unsolicited emails, if you are looking for a great travel product, then use search tools and buy from the trusted service providers.

Pay for your trips with Credit Cards
Always pay for your trips using a credit card. For Africans, this might be a challenge as many African countries are now facing wholesale blacklisting or greylisting of credit cards from their countries by international service providers due to perceived threat levels supposedly posed by the credit card transactions from many African nations. Many international providers are no longer honoring transactions by credit cards issued in the African digital space. Credit cards normally protect users against losses due to theft and fraud.

Safety in the public: booking your travel in a cybercafe? Think again
The easiest way for cybercriminals to steal your login credentials and financial information is via public browsing arenas such as cybercafes, libraries, airports or hotels. Never use a shared machine for online transactions, you are placing yourself at a significant risk by doing so. In Kenya and many parts of Africa, this might not be practical due to the low rate of internet access and broadband subscription so many users are likely to be forced to share computers in public places such as cybercafes. Take some extra precautions, always enable private browsing when using a shared machine in a cybercafe, hotel, conference etc. Clear all browsing history, cookies, cache and temp files after every internet session; never expose your debit card/credit card number, cybercafes are quite congested and it's very easy or someone to spy on your card information, never "Remember Password", never download files in public computers, you are likely to forget to delete them, leaving your private info or everyone to see; empty the Recycle Bin for all the files you have used and deleted during a login session. In some cases, the public computers could be installed with spyware such as Keylogger software that reads and stores every information you type into the keyboard. Finally advice, never visit websites that require you to login or enter credit card info in public computers.

The dangers of public Wi-Fi
Avoid using public Wi-Fi as much as possible even if it's provided freely at the airport, the plane or hotel. Cybercriminals can set up rogue Wi-Fi access points tat once you connect into, will ive them access to all your information. It's difficult for many travelers to tell the rogue Wi-Fi from the legitimate Wi-Fi. Ask the airline for the name of the Wi-Fi network where you are not sure. Also, instead of public Wi-Fi, use Mi-Fi instead(MiFi Mobile Hotspots) or tether your laptop, notebook or tablet to your smartphone's 3G service.

Precautions with your e-Passports
In the US, all passports issued since 2007 are e-Passports. In Africa, passports are still as they once were. A dark blue booklet with several leaflets. If you are using an e-Passport, ten there are safety precautions that you must take before you embark on your journey to the airport immigration queue. e-Passports contain an electronic chip with biometric data. The RFID chip containing your biometric details can easily be wirelessly read by criminals and identity thieves from hundreds of feet away, perhaps standing in the same queue as you! A good precaution for protecting the integrity of the information on your e-Passport is buying an RFID blocking passport wallet to keep your information safe.

Bluetooth threats during your travel
Turn off Bluetooth on your mobile devices when not in use. Hackers can use bluetooth to access your system and steal private information. Hackers can also install Malicious software to your system via Bluetooth
Also be aware that Bluetooth headsets can be eavesdropped on, allowing criminals to easily record your conversations.

Careful use of social media when traveling
Announcing to everyone via social media that you are traveling makes you a very easy target. Some travelers go as far as tweeting their Flight number, the city they are traveling to and the hotel you will be staying in thus creating a digital trail for criminals in your destination city to easily locate your whereabouts and target you. Watch the amount of formation that you divulge online. KLM recently introduced a Meet and Seat program that allows travelers to share certain information from their social media profiles after booking a flight in order to help them in choosing a preferred seat mate during a  flight. While this is an interesting innovation, it can be abused in many ways by criminals and stalkers.

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